At a time when the U.S. president has emphasized the centrality of intellectual property for the American economy, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is struggling with a range of institutional inefficiencies, according to a recent New York Times report.
According to the Times, the office only began accepting a majority of its applications electronically three years ago. President Obama told a group of technology executives last year that USPTO employees are required to print some digitized applications and scan them, in order to deal with incompatible computer systems, the report said.
Patent applicants wait years for their applications to be processed, according to the report. In a normal case, the USPTO takes two years to give an inventor an initial ruling. It can then take an additional year - or more - for a patent to be issued.
David Kappos, who became director of the USPTO in 2009, said the current state of affairs is unacceptable and needs to change. "There is no company I know of that would have permitted its information technology to get into the state we’re in," Kappos said. "If it had, the CEO would have been fired, the board would have been thrown out, and you would have had shareholder lawsuits."
The report noted that the USPTO's inefficiencies are more than just a nuisance for innovators. Many small companies and startups rely on patents to get their businesses off the ground or acquire funding. According to the report, this means that "patent delays cost jobs, slow the economy and threaten the ability of American companies to compete with foreign business."